Mal Moore will be inducted Saturday into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame for his career as both a coach and an administrator. With a resume that involves nine national championships in football alone, Moore has been involved in innumerable victories during his career at Alabama.
His greatest, however, likely came during a game of chicken with the Alabama Board of Trustees and the Crimson Tide fan base.
In late 2006 Moore relieved Mike Shula of his duties as head football coach at the Capstone, and began the search for his replacement. Fans treated it like some Cold War spy thriller, tracking planes on the Internet and insisting on the veracity of rumors that Steve Spurrier had been spotted at North River Yacht Club, or that Jimmy Johnson was inspecting lake front property.
Eventually, the name of West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez surfaced. When it was announced that Rodriguez had accepted the job in principle, crestfallen Tide fans hoping for a home run hire prepared themselves mentally to rally around an okay, but not exceptional head coach.
All the while, Moore was having back-channel conversations with the agent representing Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban, who had previously turned perennial SEC West doormat LSU into a championship team. Saban was disillusioned with the pro game, and his agent let it be known that if Moore could hold the dogs at bay until the end of the NFL season, Saban would be interested in talking.
Moore, in a move that seems so brilliant that it must have been a happy accident, gave the trustees a coach they could accept, and likely control, as they had most of the hires after the retirement of Moore’s old boss, one Paul W. Bryant. He then allowed Rodriguez to go back home to think it over with his family.
Rodriguez, at the urging of his wife, reversed position and turned down the job. Alabama fans were up in arms; if the Crimson Tide job could be rejected by an unproven coach like Rodriguez, there was no hope of landing A-List talent.
Then in January, amid howls from the sports media that they had been outwitted, Moore strode to the podium like a gambler who had won the World Series of Poker with a pair of deuces, and announced Nick Saban as Alabama’s newest head coach.
Since that time, Moore has presided over a magnificent expansion to Bryant-Denny stadium, back-to-back gymnastics championships, and unprecedented growth of the University of Alabama enrollment.
Clearly multiple factors are responsible for all of these achievements, and much more is left to do (better baseball facilities, anyone?). But had it not been for a high-stakes bluff in that long December, Alabama would not be in its current Golden Age.
For that alone, Mal Moore deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.